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Development 24 March 2014

Putting the WTDC into a Broader Context

2014 will be a watershed year for the future of the Internet. The disclosures last year of large-scale surveillance programmes have caused a tectonic shift in the Internet governance landscape and undermined the trust necessary to the good functioning of the Internet.  

Major conferences are taking place this year and next year. They will provide opportunities to restore trust in the Internet but they can also be a threat, as some governments will be tempted to seize them to gain control over Internet governance arrangements. 

The Internet Society continues to hold the view that distributed, bottom-up multistakeholder Internet governance arrangements, based on voluntary cooperation between many different organizations are best suited to the underlying distributed technology. In contrast to the flexible current system, a top-down intergovernmental model would be too rigid and would stifle the further development of the Internet. 

The preparatory process for some of the coming conferences has already started. Preparations for the 10 year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS +10) are ongoing and planning for the  2014 meeting of the Internet Governance Forum is well underway.    In addition, many of us are looking forward to an important dialogue on Internet governance in Sao Paulo, Brazil in just a few weeks time.

The first major conference this year will be the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC). The WTDC will begin later this week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and continue through 10 April 2014. The WTDC will be an opportunity for the ITU and its members to focus on a key challenge – how to ensure that everyone around the globe benefits from communications.  The Internet Society believes this is an important opportunity for constructive dialogue.  

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in 2012 was unnecessarily divisive, but at the same time it provided a great deal of insight into developing country priorities with respect to the Internet. Many of these countries want to become part of the information economy, but they have important questions and, in many cases, legitimate concerns. They have concerns about the high cost of connectivity. They have concerns about privacy, consumer protection and spam. They have a hunger for education in the areas of IP addressing and numbering—no country wants to be victimized by number misuse or fraud. These countries have a desire to make smart infrastructure investments; to get answers to weighty questions surrounding censorship and human rights; and to have their experts represented in technical standards processes.

To tackle these challenges in sustainable, robust fashion, all stakeholders need to be included in the discussion and in the development of solutions – at the global, regional and global levels.   ISOC is firmly committed to a vision of development that facilitates this kind of engagement – our work to enable IXP deployment, to encourage deployment of IPv6 and to build local communities of technical expertise is grounded in this basic approach. 

The WTDC should be seen as part of a broader policy process. A positive outcome can have a constructive influence on WSIS+10 and the ITU Pleanipotentiary. However, we will also have to be prepared that some countries will also be tempted to re-open the Tunis Agenda and restructure existing Internet governance arrangements arrangements in favour of a more intergovernmental model. The same dynamics may emerge at the ITU Plenipotentiary, where some governments could seek to expand the ITU’s treaty mandate into the Internet space.

Over the coming weeks, we will use our blog to highlight a series of activities and messages that we hope will showcase that the multistakeholder model of development is real and working. The Internet Society, operating at the intersection of technology, development and policy is uniquely positioned to help ensure that the basic invariants of the open Internet remain in place and are sustained through this challenging period. 

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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